Project Management Institute

Change of regime

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BY KAREN J. BANNAN

IT’S THE DREADED CORPORATE SCENARIO.

Your current CEO is unhappy and in talks with a competitor. Soon it happens: He or she leaves and someone new comes in—someone unfamiliar with project management and its role in the business world.

Although this kind of change can be daunting for anyone in the workplace, project managers are often doubly at risk. Because not every executive holds project management in high esteem, project managers must worry about their own positions and those of their team members.

“This can be the most hazardous time for a project manager,” says Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., Atlanta, Ga., USA-based author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work [St. Martin's Griffin, 2005]. “When you have a new CEO, all bets are off because that person is the one person who can influence the entire organization's culture.”

Project managers cannot simply sit back and hope for the best. Instead, Dr. McIntyre says, it is their job to sell themselves and their career choice.

Laying the Groundwork

The most significant thing project managers can do to promote their profession and skills is demonstrate how project management has a direct positive effect on the bottom line, says Gary C. Rupp, PMP, director of professional services for IT solutions and services provider Merlin International Inc., Englewood, Co., USA.

“You are going to have to go in and play out scenarios for your CEO. Explain a recent project's outcome, and be able to say, ‘If we hadn't been involved, if a project manager hadn't examined the risk we were facing, if someone hadn't decided this is what it would cost, this is how the project would have turned out,’” he says. Project managers must show their value by explaining how they helped complete a project on schedule and at cost.

Dr. McIntyre takes it one step further. “You've got to tie project management to achieving results that are important to the CEO,” she says.

To do this, project managers must determine their new CEO’s priorities. If your company is public, you can read analyst reports to see what the experts think your company's business goals should be. And CEOs often include mission statements and goals in the press release announcing their new tenure. Trade magazines, websites and blog entries can all be used as resources to determine what your CEO has said publicly about his or her goals for the company.

EXECUTIVES ARE BUYING PROJECT MANAGEMENT AS A STRATEGIC APPROACH … ONLY IF THEY HAVEN’T SEEN TROUBLED OR FAILED PROJECTS …

—Tomasz Borucki, Management Training & Development Center, Warsaw, Poland

img CATCH YOUR CEO’S EYE

IT’S TRUE: You have to impress the boss to get ahead-and don't count on getting quality time. “A CEO isn't going to give you the time you need to talk to him or her so you can get the total picture,” says Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work. “You're probably going to get 25 percent of the time you need, so you've got to jump right in and make him or her notice you.”

Here are her tips for catching a CEO’s attention- a crucial skill if your job is on the line.

img Deliver on your word. If you say it, do it. Nothing makes someone lose faith more quickly than a broken promise.

img Speak clearly and concisely. Some project managers tend to talk in “project management speak,” says Tomasz Borucki, Management Training & Development Center. Avoid using jargon, and speak to your executive in business terms.

img Go above and beyond. Those who ask for additional duties or responsibilities—and handle them well-usually are rewarded in the end.

img Develop a relationship. People trust those who are like them, so the more you genuinely have in common with your CEO, the easier it will be to gain his or her trust. Is your CEO involved in any organizations or committees? Consider getting involved, too.

img Ask questions. Your CEO’s main goal is company profitability. Someone who asks how he or she can help reach that goal will be looked upon favorably. Many CEOs enjoy answering business-related questions, and by engaging in these conversations, project managers show they care about the company.

If you work directly with the CEO, you may even want to ask outright, “What are your top five goals over the next six months?”

Next, it's time to figure out what all this research means. Does your CEO want to cut costs or improve time-to-market? Project managers need to show their new CEO how that can happen with project management right from the start, says Adesh Jain, president, PM Guru Inc., Philadelphia, Pa., USA.

“The most important part of managing a project is the initiation phase. Often, companies do not get involved in due diligence and alignment of new initiatives with overall strategic intent of a corporation,” he says. “Project management is the backbone of an enterprise, as it allows a complete integration of various initiatives and activities happening within the company.”

Keep an Open Mind

It can be easy to become defensive and see a new CEO’s potential changes as a threat to effective project management, but it's important not to let your feelings come across that way.

“Try and think about the changes as different—not wrong—so you stay on the same team and don't become adversarial,” Dr. McIntyre says. “And don't insist that your way is the best way. Instead, be open to new approaches and ideas.”

It also helps to think about why a CEO might be reticent to continue with project management, says Nicholas Dobson, principal consultant, CITI Ltd., Buckinghamshire, England.

New upper-level executives and CEOs may be under pressure to achieve change. “As a project manager, the best way of dealing with this is to point out that project management is the most reliable and proven ally in delivering predictable and managed change.”

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You've got to tie project management to achieving results that are important to the CEO.

—Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, Atlanta, Ga, USA

Indeed, once the CEO is ready to listen, project managers should be ready to educate. By taking on the role of teacher, they can show how project management can aid delivery of the service or product to customer groups, says Ali Jaafari, Ph.D., professor and president of Asia Pacific International College, North Sydney, Australia.

Case studies—especially those that involve your own company—can be invaluable, particularly if you have something with which to compare them, he says.

“It's about educating the top executives in terms of how to look at business,” Dr. Jaafari says. “Try and get people to look at the whole philosophy and overarching managerial process of business, and how project management can streamline the process.”

Tell it Like it Is

Although it's important to remain an ally to a new CEO, project managers can point out when their CEO makes an incorrect statement about project management.

Some executives may think, for example, that adding project management to an organization means more complexity and red tape. And project managers need to quickly dispel that fallacy, says Mário Sampaio, PMP, managing director, International Institute for Learning Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“It is very important to stress that project management methodology is not synonymous with bureaucracy,” he says. “On the contrary, it will help the company expedite the improvement of the internal processes without reinventing the wheel.”

No matter what happens—regardless of the decisions your CEO makes—try not to take it personally, says Tomasz Borucki, member of the board and strategic director with Management Training & Development Center, Warsaw, Poland. Your CEO, he says, may have a negative view of project management because he or she had bad experiences with the methodology.

“Executives are buying project management as a strategic approach to grow corporate competitiveness only if they haven't seen troubled or failed projects that caused financial or image losses,” he says.

The bottom line: Give the CEO the tools and information to make an informed decision, and hope for the best, Mr. Dobson says.

“It never helps to dwell on the negative, but it's also unhelpful to paint an unrealistically optimistic view. You must maintain a levelheaded, balanced and business-like perspective,” he says. Deceptions and misrepresentations will only cause “management to lose faith in you and, worse, faith in project management as a profession.”

 

Karen J. Bannan is a freelance writer based in Massapequa, N.Y., USA. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeekOnline and Forbes.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

<< www.pmi.org << MAY 2007

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